Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
Restoring a Vintage Ring Hat
March 13, 2012Posted by on
I know I’ve stated that I do not do alterations or repairs, however, every once in a while I am given the opportunity to restore something vintage – the type of project that usually offers me a fun challenge.
Julie, a friend of a friend, enjoys collecting and wearing hats (I really wish everyone still wore hats!) and she found an old olive-green velvet ring hat at an estate sale. It was in surprisingly good condition, but it had a sad feather placed oddly across the front. The feather needed to be replaced – the shaft was broken and the end was bent.
When the hat arrived for repairs, I was a little confused by the Robin Hood-like feather – it just didn’t match the hat!
I had a feeling the feather was not original, so I did a little research and confirmed my suspicions. I discovered that ring hats were popular in the 1950s and into the 1960s. They came in a variety of colors but all the trimmings (including face veil) invariably matched the color of the hat itself. I found a couple of good examples in my friend Ken’s vintage shop at VintageMartini.com:
I suspected that Julie’s hat once had a veil of matching olive-green millinery net that had probably torn, and whoever removed it had decided to add the feather instead of replacing the veil. I started the restoration by taking off the feather, and sure enough, there were pieces of matching net underneath!
Sadly, the feather enthusiast had just slapped it on with hot-glue. No matter how carefully I tried to steam and re-melt the glue off, I couldn’t remove it all from the hat without damaging the velvet. So I picked off what I could and planned my design in order to cover up what I could not remove of the awful glue-job.
I decided that flowers of a matching olive-green would be the most authentic. I already happened to have some wool felt in the perfect shade of green, which led me to experiment with making felt roses like I talked about in this previous post.
After a failed attempt to dye some store-bought net the correct color, I ordered some out-of-production millinery veiling in the right shade of olive-green and made a classic birdcage veil. Then I discreetly tacked the veil to the hat with a few tiny stitches and placed my handmade felt roses where they covered the old glue spots. Once everything was hand-sewn onto the hat (no more icky glue added to this vintage hat!), I had a drastically different hat:
Each felt rose was made using individually shaped petals that were then stitched together by hand. The rolled felt stem that I made for one of the rosebuds was perfect for hiding the old line of glue across the top.
The back of the hat had a little circle of velvet that was probably part of original trim decoration and might have been the point of origin for the face veil. The little circle was a slightly frayed, so I hand-stitched around it to make its presence look intentional.
And here I am modeling the hat so that you can see the effect of the veil on a real person. The veil ends just below the nose.
I think my favorite thing about this project was how much my husband wrinkled his nose at the hat when he first saw it with the feather, and then once I was finished, he wanted me to keep it he loved it so much! I may have to be on the lookout for another vintage olive-green ring hat – or at least make myself a hat with millinery veiling someday.